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Having just returned from Rome for the umpteenth time I realized how much easier I find Italy as a tourist than my first trip here back in 2006. If only I had known what I know now, I could of avoided some sticky situations and a few embarrassments. When I am in Italy I see tourists make the same mistakes time after time and it’s not their fault, most of the time it is due to poor sign posting or knowledge of the country (somethings don’t make it to guide books). So here
are the top 10 mistakes tourists make when visiting Italy..
1. Tipping In Italy
Tipping is not customary in Italy, and it can often be taken as an offense. Most bartenders and waiters earn a reasonable wage so they don’t rely entirely on tips. Of course most will not scoff at being tipped but it is generally not necessary unless the service was exceptional. I generally round up the bill to the nearest ten to avoid unnecessary coins in my pocket or having to wait for the change.
2. Cash is king
Having cash with you is the easiest method of payment in Italy. Most places do not accept card payments for a bill under €10 and credit cards are not widely accepted so it is always best to carry cash with you and small change when paying for coffees. Handing over a large bill will get you a frown.
3. Buy a ticket before boarding public transport
So many times I have seen people board a bus and get fined for not having a ticket, and it is no real fault of their own as so many European cities you can buy a ticket on board the bus or tram from the driver. But in Italy you must have a ticket with you before you board or you will get a big fast nasty fine if your caught. The best thing to do is buy a couple of tickets and keep them in your wallet. They are only validated when you use them so they don’t expire so long after you’ve bought them, only once they are validated.
4. Buy your coffee before going to the bar
Most coffee bars in Italy require you to purchase your coffee, juice or snack from the cashier before going to the bar. You’ll be given a receipt once you have paid which you then present to the barrister as a sort of “token”. If you are unsure it’s always good to ask “Devo fare prima lo scontrino?” Which means “Do I have to get a receipt first?” Which leads me to number 5….
5. Always stand to drink your coffee
It is more expensive to be served at a table for a coffee then if you stand and drink it at the bar. Handy tip if you are counting your pennies.
6.Always take and keep your receipt
Ever wondered why a waiter will thrust your receipt into your hands at a restaurant? It is for a reason! If you cannot produce a receipt for something you bought, showing you were charged and paid the tax on it, you and the store could be fined on the spot. My advice is to walk at least 100 meters from the restaurant or store with the receipt. After that, you can do anything with it you want.
7. Do not buy from unlicensed vendors
If you’ve been to Italy you’ll know all about the touts and vendors that can be found on the busiest tourist streets. Typically these men are selling fake replica handbags on a white sheet on the floor or toys from cardboard boxes for 1 euro. It is against the law to buy from these men and if you get caught you could be fined as well as them. In fact they are so worried about getting caught that they have a look out that blows a whistle if a police officer heads their way and they grab the white sheet and run!
8. Be aware of free gifts
Free roses in Rome and free bracelets in Milan, be aware of these guys trying ti give you “free” gifts for your friends/girlfriend. Not only are they not free but the men can be quite pushy sometimes. I had a guy thrush a rose into my hands for “free” then demand money from us all the time i was saying no thank you.
9. Don’t touch the produce
Open air markets in Italy are great to explore and get into the hustle and bustle of everyday local life, and they are great for picking up some cheap snacks for lunch or for long bus/train journeys. But vendors get quite annoyed if you touch the produce, so if you wish to purchase something you normally have to ask and they will bag it up for you with plastic gloves.
The same goes for supermarkets, there are plastic gloves provided in the vegetable and fruit departments to be used to handle the produce. If you don’t and you use your bare hands don’t be surprised if you get scowled at by a passing granny.
10. Standing in long queues
While this isn’t a mistake you can avoid standing in long queues in peak travel times for museums and popular attractions by purchasing your tickets online in advance. Not only will this get you to the front of the queues but it might also save you some money!